Judith Fox’s book of photographs about her Alzheimer’s-ravaged husband, I Still Do, is being published this month.
She spoke to Terry Gross on Fresh Air on November 19. The podcast kept me company on my walk through the dark condominium grounds tonight. The exchange between the two women provoked contemplation about my interest and work in photography.
I haven’t done a photo shoot since the abortive shoot with Greg last May.
Now I am poised to resume deliberate, “serious” photography again on Friday. A friend asked me to do portraits of her family when they come together this weekend for Thanksgiving. I am excited about breaking out my professional background and lights again. I checked my two Canon cameras tonight and ascertained they were relatively dust-free, dust being a frequent bane when using older cameras with interchangeable lenses and without digital lens-cleaning systems like newer cameras have. I chose the lenses I plan on using at the shoot and after putting together my kit decided I might as well take it to the Thanksgiving dinner at Ria’s tomorrow. She said she’d like it if I took photos of her and her family.
The ebb and flow of creative activity intrigues me. A week ago I didn’t know how I was going to jump-start project-working again. On Saturday, Visha and Babu came for meditation and asked if I could do her family portraits. Last Monday I had lunch with Arron and Seth and we talked about my doing a documentary of Arron’s cage-fighting activities. I would shoot him training for MMA fights, lifting weights with Seth (who is acting as informal weights trainer for his roommate), his actual fights (if he can secure permission from the promoters), and interviews about his dreams and experiences. In fact last Monday as we talked I identified a topic that would be very interesting to shoot in a video. His description of what he felt before, during and after a fight was eerily similar to what I feel after vipassana meditation. I am intrigued by the possible links between intentionally violent action and the non-action in meditative absorption. At heart my interest remains what it was during my 30-year career dealing with clinical mental states. In fact the interest antedated the career. Some of us are born actors, some, like me, contemplative from the get-go.
Fox’s husband, Dr. Edmund Ackell, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just three years after the then fifty-four-year-old Fox married him. He was even then an eminent surgeon, a pilot and golfer. In ten years he lost all these abilities. Now he could barely shave himself and just months ago Fox finally moved him to a facility that could better care for his now almost totally disabling affliction. But in her interview with Gross, Fox said she started to photograph her husband after reading The Model Wife of Arthur Ollman, a book about iconic male photographers for whom their wives were both models and their muses. She wanted to photograph her own muse, her newly married husband who was then seventy years old. Ed’s only question to her was, why are you photographing me? She said her husband was a modest man and he couldn’t understand why she would want to take his pictures. To her he was handsome and her muse. He was 16 years older than she was and she knew the risks she was taking when she married him. As his illness progressed and he began to lose control of himself she asked him if he was okay with her showing candid images of him. He replied that she could show his soul in her photographs provided she did not show his penis!
Photography is about images captured from the relentless streaming that is life. For me, taking photographs is a special kind of looking, a creative way of seeing. A non-photographer skims through the images of his or her life, seeing what is useful to his strategy or purpose. A photographer combs through the flow of images for that one image that is somehow infused with energy, with what I dare call magic. More skilled and experienced photographers, painters, even writers, can describe what the magic is that they strive to capture with their photographs, with paint, or with words. I don’t have that facility. Maybe if I did I would have a more productive time of it but I doubt it. Even these skilled, experienced artists talk about the struggle they undergo to find those sweet spots when creativity bursts out and their work sings.